Flying Dutchman records was my musical find of the month. I have a huge amount of gratitude for Bob Thiele, the head of the label, who is responsible for the release of albums such as T Bone Walker’s Every Day I Have the Blues, Otis Spann’s Sweet Giant of the Blues, Gil Scott-Heron’s iconic Pieces of Man (originally released on RCA then later by Flying Dutchman) and, of course, this month’s plat du jour, Super Black Blues. Super Black Blues features stellar performances by Blues pionners T-Bone Walker, Joe Turner and Otis Spann, each of whom I love independently. You can imagine what a joy it was for me to discover they had released an album together. Though only four tracks long, this album packs a punch and left a permanent mark.
Paris Blues 14:00
Here Am I Broken Hearted 3:45
Jot’s Blues 8:11
Blues Jam 10:56
The album opens with a 14 minute blues feast about the city near where I grew up, Paris. T-Bone opens with some solid sober vocals, backed by the fabulous piano playing of Otis Spann (listen to Sellin’ My Thing for him at his best). There is a notable confidence with the instrumentality throughout this album but especially clear here. There is an exceptional pace throughout which makes this long track seem shorter. Listen for example between the 5.40 mark to the 6.00 minute mark. The guitar and drums here are just breathtaking. This is evidently perfection in the arrangement of the track as a whole. Listen also at the 10.30 mark, where George Smith’s harmonica skills intertwined with the piano are just so beautiful to hear.
T-Bone Walker − vocals, guitar
Joe Turner − vocals
Otis Spann − vocals, piano
Ernie Watts − tenor saxophone
George “Harmonica” Smith − harmonica
Arthur Wright − guitar
Ron Brown − bass
Paul Humphrey – drums
Here Am I Broken Hearted is a relief in that it is under four minutes. This is a more traditional blues piece with subject matter fitting of the genre. The introduction of Ernie Watts on the saxophone at the beginning of this track is not inconsequential. The slower pace of this song does not make it any less impressive. Here you have a group of extremely talented musicians celebrating their craft and doing so remarkably. Listen to Ron Brown on bass here, his playing is superlative.
Jot’s Blues opens with some playful, lulling guitar work which pulls the listener straight into the trap of excellent bass and piano. Otis’ vocals are buttery smooth and piercing here. He is almost wailing throughout, stretching out the notes to intone his grief at his estranged spouse. The music picks up beautifully at 2.50, just listen to that piano and how the bass and drums are giving it space to flourish. There is an unspoken symbiosis of excellence here which I have seldom heard in blues albums. Near the 5.00 minute mark, Joe Turner comes in and sings beautifully in a manner reminiscent of Fats Waller’s That Ain’t Right. The recurring motif established by the drums and saxophone provide a beautiful support for the closing section of the track. This closing section has alternating vocals and is supported by a superb recurring motif on piano, with flourishes towards the end which prove exceedingly effective.
Blues Jam is, as it states on the proverbial tin, a lengthy jam session. The musicians here really come into their own and leave us with a splendid parting shot. The track opens with some stellar guitar, piano and bass. I mentioned the harmonica playing of Mr Smith earlier, it comes back with a vengeance here.
I woke up in the morning with the blues all around my bed
I didn’t have nobody to hold my aching head
The pacing and saxophone/ piano combination from 4.20 to 5.05 is a real toe tapping experience. This is blues jamming at its finest. Watch the picking up from 6.30. One can’t help but get up and dance. The quality of this music is unquestionable. I hark on about symbiosis and musicianship but it is truly stellar here. Jut listen to how it ends from 9.45 to 10.57. The floury and energy of it!
Overall, this album took me completely by surprise. Nick (neé Saint) had sent it to me some months prior but I did not remember or realise the significance of this album. It is only now that I have discovered it again by myself (with suitable scolding from Nick) that I realised how good this was. The breathtaking talent of Walker, Turner and Spann is visible and on spectacular form. The backing musicians and singularly talented and selected for their exceptional skill. This album is a sensational and strongly worded love letter to Black musicianship. It is overflowing with extraordinary talent which oozes out of every note.
Living and dying In Chinatown Yes they’re living and dying down in old Chinatown In Chinatown, you better look around Man, you don’t stand a chance if you go down in Chinatown
Chinatown is Thin Lizzie’s 1980 triumphant offering to the altar of music. While not as strong as their opus Jailbreak, it is uniquely thin Lizzie and stands out among their albums as one of the most colourful musically and visually. I was first introduced to Thin Lizzie by my father, of course, who pointed out Phil Lynot, their lead singer, played the part of the Parson in Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, which I had the distinct pleasure of seeing live at the Resorts World Arena in 2018 for Pater’s birthday.
Phil Lynott – bass guitar, lead vocals, guitar
Scott Gorham – guitar, backing vocals
Snowy White – guitar, backing vocals
Brian Downey – drums, percussion
Darren Wharton – keyboards, backing vocals
I shall focus on a few highlights within this album. The most notable track is probably the title track. Chinatown itself is a remarkable work. From the opening chords to the drumming and Lynott’s unmistakable voice. This is a rip roaring rock tune for the ages. The beautiful guitar in the opening and the bridge are indicative of the skill and musicianship of Gorham and White. Note the precise and delightful supporting drum from Wharton throughout. This is just fab!
Other new songs on Chinatown ranged from the rousing, mid-paced determination of opener “We Will Be Strong,” the more carefree, acoustic-backed rocker “Having a Good Time” (another descendant of “The Boys are Back in Town”), the conversely dramatic “Genocide (The Killing of the Buffalo)” (featuring a particularly impassioned Lynott vocal), the heartbreakingly tender and regretful “Didn’t I” and, finally, the rather iffy, half-reggae, half-forgettable amalgam of “Hey You.”
But the album’s piece de resistance was its menacing and sinister single, “Killer on the Loose,” which caused quite a bit of controversy when certain media associated it to the ongoing furor across the British Isles over a serial killer known as the “Yorkshire Ripper,” but nevertheless reached No. 10 in Britain and No. 5 in Ireland. Chinatown, meanwhile, performed well enough in the U.K. but not as well as recent efforts; it barely registered in the U.S. and didn’t show much life even when the band descended there for a short tour, after wildly acclaimed passages through Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Ultimate Classic Rock
Sweetheart is a great passionate track with some top shelf vocals. I think however that I agree with UCR in saying that the moribund hit of the album has to be Killer On the Loose. In spite of its morbid subject matter it is the one I find myself muttering many weeks after listening to the album. The baseline, the recurring motifs, the fantastic breathless vocals just add up to make a superb hit. Try and get the chorus out of your head!
My final highlight has to be Genocide (Killing of a Buffalo) which features some impassioned vocals and a sort of vegetarian utopian vision where buffala mozzarella is a thing of the past. Some stunning guitar work throughout and once again the drumming is so impressive.
Overall, this 1980 offering is an absolute gem and worth a place in anyone’s vinyl collection. It is constant high powered fun with some top notch musicianship thrown in for good measure. Enjoy it, perhaps after watching the film Chinatown!
Blue Öyster Cult (yes that is spelled correctly), otherwise abbreviated to BÖC, are an American hard rock band. Secret Treaties is their third studio album and was released in 1974. Interestingly, Patti Smith of all people was involved in the lyricism of this album. She was dating Allen Lanier at the time and almost joined the band herself. I am glad she did not or we may never have had Horses and Waves, both stellar albums by Ms Smith. Secret Treaties is comprised of 8 stellar golden tracks which, as the Vinyl District describes: “puts Blue Öyster Cult’s strengths to the forefront–their surprising deft touch and penchant for melody, their decidedly off-kilter sense of humor, and the virtuoso skills of both Dharma and Lanier”.
[T]he roots of the group date back to 1967 to a psychedelic group called Soft White Underbelly, which featured Albert Bouchard (drums), Allen Lanier (keyboards, guitar), Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser (guitar), Andy Winters (bass), and Les Braunstein (vocals, AKA Les Vegas) and operated under the guidance of manager/producer Sandy Pearlman. Braunstein departed in 1969 and was replaced by Eric Bloom. The band changed their name to The Stalk-Forrest group shortly after. Later, Winters was fired and replaced by Albert’s younger brother, Joe. The band released their debut album in 1972.
All the members contributed to the songwriting but lyrics were often provided by people outside of the group, including Sandy Pearlman, rock scribe Richard Meltzer, poets Patti Smith (Lanier’s longtime companion) and Jim Carroll, and science fiction author Michael Moorcock, amongst others. Eric Bloom served as the band’s primary lead vocalist, but Donald Roeser sang what are arguably the band’s most famous songs, including “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”, “Godzilla”, and “Burnin’ For You”. The Bouchard brothers also contributed lead vocals. Discogs
Career of Evil is considered the weakest track on the album, which is just as well as it is the first we hear and get out of the way. I thought the central repetitive riff was very nice indeed and the solo was unexpected and hit me across the face. The piano and drums, which are a common thread throughout the album, combine and play off of one another beautifully. One of the greatest parts of this album is the production value and excellent seamless transitions between tracks. This also highlights the deftness of the overall sequencing within the album, which thoroughly impressed me.
Dominance and Submission transitions seamlessly from Subhuman and provides us with a superb riff. The bridge before the final solo is excellent rock and roll. The solo itself is staggering.
But the most hilarious fact about the lyrics is that Blue Öyster Cult HAD HELP. No, not NEED HELP, you got it right the first time. And if that don’t take all, it was the fair hands of Patti Smith, “Crawdaddy” scribe Richard Meltzer and BÖC producer Sandy “Give The Clash Enough Mott” Pearlman what took part in collaborating with the Öyster boys on ‘em. In fact, there’s not a single song absent from one of the above-mentioned outsider’s input, and I suspect not only because Patti and Cult keyboardist/guitarist Alan Lanier were romantically linked at the time, but it also secretly afforded all parties involved the freedom to take even bigger chances than normal, figgering if it all blew up in everybody’s faces and it all waxed foolish for some reason there’d always be somebody else to finger for its failure. Head Heritage (Mr Julian Cope’s fabulous blog)
Let’s talk about the lyricism of ME 262, to which Copey alludes above.
Goering’s on the phone to Freiburg Say’s Willie’s done quite a job Hitler’s on the phone from Berlin Say’s I’m gonna make you a star
I found myself replaying these several times and muttering “what the…?”. The track title refers to the Messerschmitt Me 262 airplane, which can be seen on the cover of the album. The energy throughout this track is top shelf. Using the sounds of bomb dropping, goose stepping and war sirens is so wonderful. Thus endeth side 1.
Side 2 opens with Cagey Cretins. This track includes a wonderful segment of keyboard reminiscent of Dave Greenfield’s electrifying play style in the Stranglers. The lyricism, guitar mastery, flow and energy of this track is reflective of the symbiotic drive seen throughout the album as a whole.
Harvester of Eyes follows from the shocking transition of the former track, and provides eery vocals, guitar work and some stellar solos. The end of the track’s bridge and slowing pace followed by a music box (?!) – totally unexpected.
The final two tracks steal the show once again. The opening aggressive piano of Flaming Telepaths, above, marks the aggression of the overall track, which is carried on throughout.
I’m after rebellion // I’ll settle for lies // Is it any wonder // My mind is on fire?
Finally, Astronomy exemplifies the high level of BÖC’s musicianship. The track is in striking in how different the tone is from the other tracks in the album. It takes its time and languishes with us. In the end, the album culminates in a staggeringly energetic final floury and closes.
Overall, my three takeaways from this album are as follows:
This is a triumph of sequencing, every track is where it should be and flows together seamlessly
There is an amazing and consistent drive and energy throughout the album
BÖC exhibit a high level of competency and confidence throughout. It is clear they cannot believe they have been given the opportunity to make such music and are going to have maximum fun with them.
Kraftwerk is a German band formed in Düsseldorf in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, who both produced Techno Pop with Karl Bartos in 1986. Techno Pop was Kraftwerk’s 9th studio album. Originally released as Electric Cafe, Techno Pop is the original working title of this album, re-released in 2009. Techno Pop was my album of November and December 2020 but required its own separate post to highlight just how enjoyable it is. This is the album which has seen me at my most productive. My usual revision album would be Tour De France by Kraftwerk while I was in school, however, this has now been superseded and with good reason. The only difference in the 2009 re-issue is that there is an additional track, House Phone, previously released as the B-Side of “The Telephone Call” or “Der Telefon-Anruf” 12-inch single in 1987.
This was the first album Kraftwerk released in the three years since Tour De France. The possible reason for this is below. Listening to this now without the pressure of the years of waiting Most of the album was recorded using the same instrument as Tour De France, an Emu-Emulator, which is a digital sampling synthesizers using floppy disk storage, if you can believe it. This is pictured below. As you’ll be aware I am a big fan of synth of all descriptions so this was a great discovery. From the opening notes of the first track, above, you can see this wonderful instrument at work.
When Electric Cafe was reissued on CD in 2004 with the name Techno Pop it put an end to such speculations and confirmed the sorry truth: Techno Pop had been recorded and slated for release in 1983, but a crisis of confidence – as well as a serious cycling injury sustained by Ralf Hütter – had seen its release postponed. After the album had been mixed in New York none of the band was happy with it, and the decision was taken to scrap it and start again. The change of name to Electric Cafe was presumably born of embarrassment that even as fastidious a group as Kraftwerk had taken the best part of five years to produce 35 minutes of music. And not very good music at that. Or so went the critical judgement of the time as far as the last point is concerned. Drowned In Sound
The first three tracks on this album are variations on the same theme, described as a masterpiece of “monomaniacal rhythmical development” by Drowned In Sound. Transitions between tracks are sublime and barely noticeable. The final part of the second track is a superb low end synth line which moves beneath synthesised marimba and xylophone patterns quite deftly. The band continue with the intensity of the end of track 2 into Musique Non Stop. This was a sparse rhythm track which is impressive seen alone but uniquely so seen as part of the album as a whole.
The final four tracks always fly by for me. House Phone was added to the re-release for reasons I am not fully clear on. The Telephone Call is a wonderful track and is the only Kraftwerk song which features Bartos as lead vocalist. This track on the Kraftwerk live album Minimum Maximum is one of my favourites on that album. Sex Object is a bit more divisive and certainly not what one would expect given the previous Kraftwerk Catalogue.
If techno, according to Derrick May’s famous definition, was the sound of Kraftwerk and George Clinton trapped in an elevator with nothing but a sequencer to occupy them, then ‘Sex Object’ is what happened when Clinton got swapped out for Mark King. Drowned In Sound
Ending with Electric Cafe, a sort of Franco Germanic techno meld, the album always leaves me feeling satisfied. It is balanced, has some wicked and novel synth work, and is a remarkably fully realised vision. It spurns me on and has been at my side through some of my best work. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Rest in peace Florian Schneider-Esleben (7 April 1947 – 21 April 2020), immortal of pop.
Rush were the true ‘find’ of this year for me. No other band or composer has succeeded in moving me so completely and so consistently as Rush. It just so happens that 2020 is the 40th anniversary of the release of this album, which adds some meaningless pomp to the occasion. Geddy Lee himself stated “I’ll be honest, I’m fed up that every time I turn around that it’s the fortieth anniversary of something we’ve done.”. Oh to have been alive in the heyday of Rush. As this album comprises of six tracks only, I shall discuss each in turn below.
(Speaking of Hemispheres, the preceding album) “We were falling into these patterns of writing — the repetition of these thematic things that occur over a 20-minute span,” bassist Geddy Lee told Rolling Stone in 2018. “They were starting to feel too comfortably organized in a way, like we weren’t thinking originally enough. That’s kind of a prog pattern. People associate prog-rock with a challenging style of music, and it certainly can be that. But if you’re starting to fall into past habits and develop a methodology that’s too comfortable, it’s not progressive. I think we started to feel that way by the time we finished that record.”
So for their seventh LP, Permanent Waves, the Canadian power-trio — Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, drummer Neil Peart — consciously trimmed their track lengths, embraced more personal subject matter and nodded to the sleeker sounds of the New Wave scene. (The album title is, fittingly, a playful “poke” at the genre, as Peart told the Chicago Tribune. “There are many New Wave groups we enjoy and respect, like Talking Heads and Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson,” he said. “Really, the joke was aimed more at the press, especially the English rock press that is inclined to write off any band that was around last week and go for whatever’s happening this week.”) Ultimate Classic Rock
The Spirit of Radio
My father and I were discussing this recently and he told me he was first introduced to Rush while listening to this track on the radio which I can only imagine must have been electrifying. This was his first purchase. I’ve had this album on vinyl since I inherited father’s collection when I was 14 but did not fully appreciate it’s beauty until now.
One likes to believe in the freedom of music
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity, yeah
Invisible airwaves crackle with life
Bright antenna bristle with the energy
Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free
The above lyrics, written by Neil Peart as a love letter to the magic of radio, have and continue to give me goosebumps whenever I listen to this record. The track itself crackles with life and energy. The late great Neil Peart’s drumming and lyricism skills are on fine form here. The track moves from jazzy drumming and cymbals to reggae and back to prog rock effortlessly. The snippet of the live show after the lyric “concert halls” is electrifying. The Geddy Lee guitar solo is absolutely show stopping. And this is just the first track.
This track is humanist and anti organised religion. While I disagree philosophically with the lyrics, I often find myself humming them to Matthew’s annoyance. This track is one of the strongest on the album and the symbiosis between the “three virtuosos” as Nick calls them, is as evident as ever. Lee, Lifeson and Peart are as one in this track and the result is staggering. The guitar and bass solos give me goosebumps. The drumming is mathematical and precise and the whole track is a phenomenon.
You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear;
I will choose free will
The bass at the beginning of this track is foreboding. The symbiosis between Peart and Lifeson is exemplary. Geddy Lee’s entry and early solo – just superb. The low ebb towards the middle of the track followed by a staggering final phase made me feel as though I were climbing the ladder with Jacob. The transitions between phases of this song are excellent.
Translated from the actual French as ‘between us’, this wonderful track is about individuality, loneliness and isolation which has spoken to me in this tumultuous year. The virtuoso trio (quote, St Nick) have wowed me again with the French Canadian connection, first showed in Circumstances on their previous album. The lyrics are just great:
We are planets to each other
Drifting in our orbits
To a brief eclipse
Each of us a world apart
Alone and yet together
Like two passing ships
Just between us
I think it’s time for us to recognize
The differences we sometimes feared to show
Just between us
I think it’s time for us to realize
The spaces in between
For you and I to grow
The riffs throughout are exceptional and I was particularly impressed by the bass around the 2.44 mark.
This is my favourite Rush track. Out of their prolific catalogue this stands out as one of the most finely arranged, musically perfect and deeply felt tracks. I would say this is one of their crowning masterpieces. The symbiosis again is so clear here. The isolated guitar work at the beginning gives goosebumps, followed by the drums and piano, heard for the first time in the album. It speaks to unity and solitude in a deeply moving lyrical feast.
All there really is
The two of us
And we both know why we’ve come along
Nothing to explain
It’s a part of us
To be found within a song
What happened to our innocence
Did it go out of style?
Along with our naivety?
No longer a child
Different eyes see different things
Beat on different strings
After Different Strings, one is bound to be disappointed. The beginning of this track, I argue, panders to this theory. The beginning is intentionally weaker for you to recover somewhat from the previous track. But then, from the guitar solo 2 minutes in, it picks up beautifully. There are clear movements, for what of a better expression, in this track.
Wheel within wheels in a spiral array
A pattern so grand and complex
Time after time we lose sight of the way
Our causes can’t see their effects
The most endangered species, the honest man
Will still survive annihilation
Forming a world, a state of integrity
Sensitive, open, and strong
This track sums up the brilliance of this album very well, showing the three virtuosos on top form and displaying a musicianship bordering on the divine.
A seminal bit of Rushness – Pater
My overall impressions of Permanent Waves are as follows:
Three uniquely talented virtuosos
Symbiotic and united musicianship displayed at all times
I could listen to the isolated tracks for each instrument at any point in this album and be as impressed
This is a staggering album which has its correct place in my personal pantheon of perfect albums. I hope it will find its way to yours.
The time has come again for Almost Album of the month, a collation of the albums which have marked me this year but for a number of reasons could not hold the title of album of the month. See below 6 albums (as I no longer have enough time to write 12 like last year) which I consider to be uniquely splendid.
Headspace – Levitation Room 2019
The above was my most played track of 2020 and it is not difficult to see why. This album is one which I played over and over and over throughout the year. It is wonderfully inventive, cohesive and offers a very strong sound. This is the height of ‘nondescript modern’ pop.
Marillion – Clutching at Straws 1987
Marillion are a powerhouse British punk/progressive rock band to which my father introduced me while I went to France in the summer, in between quarantines. You will be aware that Misplaced Childhood was album of the month in July and with good reason. I could have chosen any of Marillion’s other albums with Fish as lead singer as well as FEAR with the new singer Steve Hogarth. Fugazi, Script For a Jester’s Tear, or FEAR could have been chosen but I listened to Clutching at Straws most. It is a masterpiece. Please do listen to it.
Steve Harley – Timeless Flight 1976
This album is one which would fit into the album of the year category. I have not in my possession words to describe the masterful work of beauty that is Timeless Flight. It is only not album of the year because the album I have picked this year shook my musical foundations and I have been listening to Timeless Flight since I was 14 and got my first record player. Nothing is Sacred is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.
Nina Hagen – NunSexMonkRock 1982
This marvellous 1982 offering is a splendid and oftentimes confusing album can be categorised as psycho-germanic experimental pop. Rolling Stone called it the “most unlistenable” album ever made, while others praised its experimental nature and Hagen’s theatrical vocals. If you can get past the gauche title, I highly recommend this album which has brought me much joy over the last year.
UB40 Live – 1983
UB40 Live is another excellent example of Birmingham brilliance in pop. This album sees the Brummy band perform songs from its first three studio albums, Signing Off, Present Arms and UB44. I am a fan of UB40 so this album really appeals to me. Nick, Louise and I tried to visit their bar, The Garden Lounge in Zadar, Croatia (in the Before Time) but it was closed at the time. Watch out for tracks such as One In Ten, Folitician, Tyler and the mega Sardonicus, which gives me goosebumps still.
Telekon Live – 2008
2020 was the year of the live album for me. Peter Gabriel’s Plays Live being the crowning jewel of live albums. I have also enjoyed The Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East, B.B. King’s Live in Cook County Jail, Peter Framton Comes Alive (wonderful), Kiss! Alive, Sparks Live at the Record Plant 1974 (mega for Sparks fans) and recently both of Thomas Dolby’s live albums. But none have knocked me over quite so conclusively as Telekon Live. I am a huge fan of Gary Numan and must have about ten of his records on vinyl. This album was released in 2008 by Mortal Records and is a recording of Numan’s 9 December 2006 Telekon concert at the London Forum, 26 years after it was first released. Critics have argued that Numan himself is the only weak link in the album and I am minded to agree. However, together, it is a wonderful contribution to the musical gene pool, as it were. The last track in particular blows me away every time.
Overall these are a few of the albums which have made my year more bearable. I hope they bring you some joy also.